Smithsonian Center for Lation Initiatives
The Interpretation and Representation of Latino Cultures: Research and Museums Conference Documentation
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Chavoya, Ondine

Challenging Traditional Curatorial Practices

Historicizing Narratives

Borders and Diasporas

Aesthetics Beauty

The Body: The Real and the Symbolic

All Abstracts



Catwoman vs. The Leafblower: Lowriders, Power Tools and Latino Aesthetics.

My paper analyzes local debates in Los Angeles regarding the issues of immigrant labor and “quality of life” that came into focus following a controversial 1996 ordinance that banned the use of gasoline-powered gardening tools.  This is a story about leaf blowers and the city, a recent saga linking local political conflict with global implications.  My paper addresses the issues of neo-industrialization and postindustrialization in Los Angeles, which has coincided with the Latinization of a working poor population, and the resultant debates over quality of life. 

In order to foreground the role of aesthetics, I focus on the multimedia art of Rubén Ortiz Torres and the role of customization and collaboration in his work.  I begin by discussing a representative sample of the artist’s photographs to provide an overview of his work, and then proceed to present Alien Toy, the artist’s 1997 video installation in the form of a lowrider pickup truck, and conclude with a detailed analysis of the 1998 Power Tools series.  Both Alien Toy and Power Tools incorporate the traditions of lowrider customizing, and thus Chicano vernacular aesthetics, in a contemporary installation format. My paper historicizes the impact of Chicano lowrider practices and aesthetics on U.S. American public culture and analyses the various public responses to this cultural tradition, including its incorporation into the museum. 

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